July internationals: Five takeaways from Australia v England as the tourists keep the series alive

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·5-min read
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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Following a 25-17 victory for England over Australia in their July international, here’s our five takeaways from the match in Brisbane on Saturday.

The top line

As must-win matches for England go, this performance just about passed muster as they levelled the three-match series against Australia in a rather scrappy and untidy affair at Suncorp Stadium.

It was a win based upon doing everything slightly better than last week, with the rolling maul and breakdown physicality the hallmarks of their victory. Billy Vunipola, England’s best player, crashed and bashed and was rewarded with a try, whilst skipper Courtney Lawes put in a massive display on the blindside flank, helping himself to turnovers, lineout takes and carry after carry.

The opening half saw England look a lot sharper in foot and mind that last weekend, with debutant Jack van Poortvliet starring and making great decisions at a high tempo. His Tigers team-mate Guy Porter put in a quietly brilliant display in defence, really closing down the holes in the 13/14 channel that Australia exploited so well last weekend.

For Eddie Jones, this was a match he and his team couldn’t afford to lose. They scraped a win, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in attack if they are to challenge the best teams in the world.

What changed?

Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith both appeared to be playing off similar scripts today – if ones that were slightly more Saracens voiced than Harlequins voiced. They played intelligently and in the right areas and save for 20 minutes of Australian pressure in the second half, they got their exit strategy spot on.

England also won the aerial battle, with Freddie Steward, Jack Nowell and Tommy Freeman exceptional in defence and kick return. Nowell was a pain in the Wallaby side all day, often doing the work of an openside flanker, sometimes doing the work of a right wing and occasionally doing the work of a number eight. He might not have top end gas but his workrate and commitment are to be applauded.

The biggest change, however, was in defence. As mentioned, Porter has had a fabulous season for Leicester and his ability to close off the corner defence shut down Australia’s big midfield runners coming off nine and 10. He stays with his man, stays parallel to the goal line and not once did he make an error in the key defensive position of the backline.

However, the two things that still let England down is their handling in contact in the opposition red zone and their propensity to cede possession by silly disciplinary errors.

Set-piece

England just about shaded it at scrum time, and both Ellis Genge and Will Stuart had some rumbling gains in the loose, with the Bath tighthead in particular carrying at his very best. Despite the efforts of the world-class Taniela Tupou, who popped over from short range for the Wallaby opener, the battle between he and Genge was a belter, often requiring referee Andrew Brace to toss a coin to decide who was the miscreant.

But at lineout time it was a mixed bag. The maul worked a treat and was an absolute feature of England’s game. Their try came from one such move with a brilliant catch and switch to the front for Vunipola to peel round and over the try line. However, Matt Philip yet again pressured some big names as he managed four steals on the night, something that England will be really concerned about given the importance of their lineout moves.

England work-ons

It’s churlish to criticise a win, especially such an important one in the context of recent English results, but the English backline really failed to fire a shot of note in attack. All of their momentum came from direct flat running from the nominated carriers and there was no chance to see the free running of Freeman and Henry Arundell in any sort of space or backline move.

There were times too when you wondered if England stopped being positive, whether that be in defence, set-piece or kick. Playing attacking rugby is a mindset and when England decide to go into soak mode they are absolutely at their weakest.

On a number of occasions when awarded a penalty, when emotionally on top and in great territorial positions, Farrell chose to kick for goal because he simply doesn’t have the faith in England’s try finishing ambitions. Against the very best teams 14-point margins can be overturned in the modern game now and England need to work out a way of scoring bigger points.

The week ahead

Both teams have a number of injury bulletins to sweat on, with Maro Itoje being top of the list of the players Jones will want to get back. Australia will be equally tense about Jordan Petaia who looked distinctly groggy as he went off. The post-match HIA protocols will inform the chances of both players, but it doesn’t look good for either.

But with the series at one-all and with one to play, this three-match tour could not be set up better. Sydney will welcome these two great teams next Saturday and despite the second half excellence of the Wallabies in both Tests, England may just be favourites to take the series 2-1.

READ MORE: Five takeaways from New Zealand v Ireland as tourists earn momentous victory

The article July internationals: Five takeaways from Australia v England as the tourists keep the series alive appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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